Though video games can produce desirable learning outcomes, such as improved performance in school subjects, they also can produce undesirable outcomes, such as increased aggression. Some of the basic learning principles that make video games (particularly violent video games) effective at teaching are discussed in this chapter. A general learning model is presented to explain how video games can produce a variety of effects in their users. This model explains both the immediate, short term effects and cumulative, long term effects of video games. Implications of these principles are discussed in relation to education. The issue of addressing violent video games’ effects on aggression is also examined.
Learning Processes And Violent Video Games
Video games have become an immensely popular medium in the 35 years since their introduction. The annual sales of video games and their accessories in the U.S. reached $10.5 billion in 2005, exceeding the $9 billion grossed by films in the U.S. box office that same year (ESA, 2007; MPAA, 2007). Though the growth in popularity and sales of video games has been driven more by their ability to entertain than by their ability to teach, many groups, including teachers, businesses, the U.S. military, and researchers, have recognized the value of video games as effective teaching tools. On one hand, video games are effective teaching tools because they take advantage of several basic learning principles and instructional techniques, such as the use of effective forms of reinforcement and an adaptable level of difficulty. On the other hand, it has come to the public attention that most popular video games, 89% of video games by one estimate, contain violence (Children Now, 2001). This has led to considerable social concern over the potential negative effects of video games, especially the potential of such video games to increase aggression. When examined within the framework of the general learning model (GLM), it is apparent that these divergent outcomes (education and increased aggression) are not competing explanations of video game effects. Rather, both the often intended, positive effects of video games and the unintended negative effects result from the same short-term and long-term psychological learning mechanisms. The success of violent video games as teaching tools suggests ways that education could be improved, both with and without video games. Parents, educators, and policy makers should be aware that video games can teach a wide variety of information and skills and even produce personality changes in their users, for good or ill. What outcomes a particular video game produces depends primarily on its content, regardless of the original intent of the creators or users. This chapter describes some of the principles and mechanisms underlying violent video game effects, as well as some of the societal implications.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Violence: Extreme physical aggression, such as severe physical assault or murder. All violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence.
Schema: A pattern or template used to understand real-world experiences, to mediate perception, or guide response. A type of knowledge structure.
Aggression: Behavior which is carried out with the intent to harm another individual who is motivated to avoid that harm.
Automatize: Making a cognitive process relatively effortless and requiring few or no cognitive resources, usually achieved through repetition.
Overlearning: To continue studying or practicing a perceptual, thought, or decision process, or a skill after initial proficiency has been achieved, in order to reinforce or ingrain the learned information or skill.
Knowledge Structure: Packet of organized information about the world, held in long-term memory.
Script: A schema containing an expected sequence of behaviors used to attain a particular goal.